What was Julie Pearce thinking? From the sounds of an apology letter she posted about a dumb and insensitive racial headline, she was thinking about everything and nothing all at the same time.
Pearce is an anchor/reporter for KBJR-TV in Duluth. Her biography on the station's Web site says she's earned four college degrees. She's traveled widely. She's even worked as a performance artist. And she's won awards for her broadcast journalism. But on Jan. 17, she wrote this headline over a story on the station's Web site: "Black Male Victim Of Stabbing in Duluth's East Hillside."
The headline stayed that way when readers went to the Web site the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but was later changed.
A blogger at perfectduluthday.com made a screen grab of the original headline and story and posted it. Readers pointed out that the victim's race was never mentioned in the original police press release. The ensuing war in the comments section became heated. And then Pearce chimed in on the post. We'll let her words explain in more depth why this kind of headline riles readers. In a nutshell, the victim's race had nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Here's the apology in full:
I'd like to personally apologize for posting that offensive headline. Not only was it unnecessary to the meaning of the story, but it was insensitive to have appeared on MLK day. It was careless writing that in the rush of gathering details and laying down a headline, I forgot the power of the words we use and how they can so greatly change the context of a story for the better... or in this case the worse. Highlighting the victim's race only perpetuated stereotypes that we certainly are trying to shed. Afterall, his race didn't have anything to do with why he was a victim, no more than if the victim in any story is related to any sort sexual orientation or religious affiliation. It was no more necessary than if I had found it important to specify that a white man was stabbed. That would have sounded silly and unneccesary. Mentioning the victim's race would have been an irrelevent detail that only would stand to stir controversy. I don't want to be a part of creating disunity or perpetuating stereotypes in this community or any other. I am sorry for my offensive writing. I should have read it more carefully before posting the story. It won't happen again. However, let's all take this as a perfect lesson that as far as we have all succeeded in becoming more accepting of diversity, changing stereotypes, and shifting our thinking... we still have a long way to go. Much of the language that we use still has deep-rooted pain attached to it and hurtful connotations. We're all so used to reading it, seeing it, and hearing it, that if we're not careful we become breeders of it without even realizing it. Honestly, I'm glad this happened because it can serve for all of us as a poignant example of the power of words, the growth has taken place in our community that people recognize the danger of using sensitive wording like that and won't tolerate it, the room for improvement in all of our lives, and the ability to see when and where we all fall short. Thank you for reminding me of that. Apologies, Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce